Recommended Components: Fall 2016 Edition Preamplifiers


Editor's Note: Apart from the CAT, Shindo, and Placette, all the Class A preamplifiers offer balanced inputs and outputs. And unless noted, the preamplifiers listed do not have phono stages.


Audio Research SP20: $9000
ARC's first full-function, line-plus-phono preamp in ages—and their first-ever preamp to offer a headphone output—the new SP20 is a pure class-A, fully balanced, hybrid design. Its 19"-wide chassis blends styling cues from ARC's early days with a modern touchscreen, and the SP20's similarly modern remote handset provides control over volume, source selection, channel balance, cartridge loading, stereo/mono switching, absolute phase inversion, and more. The preamp uses a total of four 6H30 dual-triode tubes and provides 13.8dB of line gain, plus up to 58dB of phono gain. BJR cited the SP20's "detailed, delicate, extended high frequencies," "bass beyond reproach," and "superb resolution of detail"—and surprised some of us by declaring the new preamp's phono section superior to his (very) long-term reference, the Vendetta SCP-2D. Regarding line-stage performance, BJR maintained a slight preference for the better "high-level dynamic slam" of his Audio Valve Eklipse. JA's measurements gave the "well-engineered" SP20 a clean bill of health, noting in particular the phono section's "extremely accurate" RIAA equalization. (Vol.37 No.6 WWW)

Ayre Acoustics K-5xeMP: $4350 ★
Like all of Ayre's 5-series products, the K-5xe uses the Ayre Conditioner, a built-in RFI filter that works in parallel with the AC line to reduce background noise, grain, and hash. The original K-5xe added nothing to the original signal and had no sonic signature of its own. ST: "It just got out of the way" subsequently adding that this "superb solid state line-stage preamp is everything you could ask for: neutral, detailed, dynamic, exceptionally low noise, fun to use." JA felt high Class B was a fair rating for the original version; the Maximum Performance (MP) version incorporates rare, low-noise Toshiba J-FETs for the output buffer stage. The K-5xeMP had dynamics equal to that of the original K-5xe, but produced quieter backgrounds and had a friendlier, more accurate overall balance, with better delineation of images within a wide, deep soundstage. Though it lacked the top-end air of the Parasound Halo JC 2, the Ayre sounded warmer overall, with a fleshier lower midrange. Its measured performance was "about as good as it gets for a solid-state preamplifier," said JA. Black finish adds $250. (Vol.29 No.5 original version; Vol.34 No.6 MP version WWW)

Ayre Acoustics KX-R Twenty: $27,500
It would seem an impossible task: improving on a preamplifier—the Ayre KX-R—that sounded better to JA than no preamplifier at all. But that was the hurdle set for the new KX-R Twenty, named in honor of Ayre's 20th year of operation. More of a complete redesign than an upgrade of the original, the KX-R Twenty employs AyreLock, a new, proprietary approach to power-supply regulation that seems equal parts calculus and poetry. Also involved were similarly big changes to the active circuitry, including the adoption, in this model, of the "diamond" output circuit of the company's X-5 series—if only because, in the words of chief engineer and CEO Charles Hansen, it proved to work "so insanely well." Of his time with the new Ayre, JA wrote, "Some highly resolving audio components achieve their transparency to what has been captured on a recording by emphasizing detail. The Ayre simply cleaned the window." JA's listening notes were ripe with examples of fine performance at various sonic tasks, but in the end, his view was holistic: "The Ayre evoked the words Peter Schaffer has Antonio Salieri saying, in Amadeus, about the entry of the solo oboe in this music: 'This was a music I'd never heard. Filled with such longing, such unfulfillable longing. It seemed to me that I was hearing the voice of God.'" (Vol.37 No.12 WWW)

Balanced Audio Technology Rex II: $25,000
The tubed, line-level Rex II is supplied in two boxes, albeit not in accordance with audio tradition: the Rex II's control module (eight tubes) contains a single gain stage for the left and right channels, plus the dual-mono power supply that runs it, while the power module (ten tubes) contains everything else, along with everything else's power supply. There are five inputs and three outputs—all balanced, of course—and ergonomic refinements abound, including a left/right balance control, a mono switch, and a switch to invert signal polarity. FK—who reminds the reader that two boxes filled with a total of 18 tubes will add warmth to any home—responded with enthusiasm to the changes wrought by the broken-in BAT: "singers beamed from the soundstage with a matter-of-fact, lifelike presence that I'd never heard from my system." He added, "the Rex II captured . . . their most softly whispered asides. It was spooky-palpable." Overall, FK concluded that the Rex II "eked from my LPs and CDs more new things than any other component I've sampled in years." JA, for his part, described the BAT's measured performance as "excellent." (Vol.39 No.1 WWW)

Bespoke Audio: $12,000 and up
Built around a stereo pair of hand-wound, multitapped transformers, the Bespoke Audio preamplifier—which provides attenuation and source selection but no actual preamplification—is a passive line stage that exudes an "unsurpassed" level of quality, according to AD. Buyers select from a variety of colors, materials, connector types, and ergonomic refinements, the last including a motorized volume knob and remote handset. While declaring that he is not normally a fan of passive preamps, owing in particular to a paucity of musical impact from systems so equipped, AD noted that the Bespoke was better in that regard than he'd expected, and that its use brought enhanced clarity to some recordings: "the best justification yet" for the passive approach is offered by this product, he believes. (Vol.38 No.10 WWW)

Boulder 2110: $55,000
Given that its predecessor, the model 2010, enjoyed a 17-year run in Boulder Amplifiers' product line, much was expected of the new 2110 line preamplifier: a multibox solid-state model in which user functions are optically controlled to eliminate noise, and whose six inputs are characterized by an impressive degree of adjustability and flexibility of configuration. All of its inputs and outputs are fully balanced, addressed only with XLR jacks, and the 2110 goes the 2010 one better by adding a fully differentially balanced volume control. Using the Boulder 2110 with his darTZeel NHB-18NS mono amps in balanced mode, MF observed that "[it] produced image intensity, physicality, and solidity that were unprecedented in my experience. First take: a giant Wow." MF elaborated: "It made recordings I know to be truly exceptional sound even more so through my system." With the Boulder pre on his test bench, JA observed, "The 2110's distortion is so low, in fact, that it taxed my ability to measure it." JA ultimately pronounced the 2110 "the best-measuring preamplifier I have encountered." (Vol.38 No.3 WWW)

Convergent Audio Technology SL1 Renaissance Black Path Edition: $9990 line only, $11,990 with phono stage
The Convergent Audio Technology SL1, which has grown a long name to match its long life, continues to be revised and refined by designer Ken Stevens. In its Renaissance update, the heralded CAT SL1 line stage received a new circuit-board layout and improved power supply; it was also treated to an A/V bypass, user-selectable gain, and a switch-selectable, moving-coil transformer for its optional phono stage ($2000). Compared to its predecessor, the SL1 Ultimate, the Renaissance offered greater transparency, resolution, and dynamics, said RD. JA noted "superb measured performance and an equally superbly linear circuit topology." The most recent (2015) change was occasioned by CAT's development of their Black Path signal capacitor, and named for it; further audio-circuit optimizations and a reduction in noise intermodulation are also among the refinements claimed for the Black Path Edition. After spending time with the SL1 Renaissance, RD pointed to improved rendering of intertransient silence, crisper and tighter percussion sounds, and better transparency and resolution than from the SL1 Ultimate: "I knew I was hearing no minor improvement." (Vol.32 No.11, Vol.38 No.12 WWW)

Dan D'Agostino Master Audio Systems Momentum Preamplifier: $35,000
"Among the most beautiful pieces of audio gear" that MF has seen or touched, the Dan D'Agostino Momentum echoes the sculpted aluminum-with-copper, quasi-steam-punk cosmetics of the Dan D'Agostino Momentum power amplifier—but with a chunky, round volume control/level meter in place of the amplifier's chunky, round, output-power meter. As MF observed, "The complementary, balanced, zero-feedback Momentum is DC-coupled, has no capacitors in the signal path, and features fully discrete circuitry with no op-amps. Volume adjustment is via an optical controller and resistor ladder." User controls for the line-level-only, low-gain Momentum—all available on the impressive remote handset, most on the front panel—include absolute signal polarity, channel balance, source selection, mute, and tone controls. The main unit and its curvy and cunningly designed outboard power supply—the former sits atop the latter—are electrically connected via a multipin umbilical. After listening, MF commented: "In the Momentum, Dan D'Agostino has produced a preamplifier that duplicates the Momentum amp's delicacy, transparency, three-dimensionality, and especially its liquidity and freedom from grain without softening transients—all floating above the blackest backdrops." Summing up his measurements, JA noted that "the Momentum preamplifier lives up to Dan D'Agostino's reputation for heroic audio engineering." (Vol.37 No.8 WWW)

Luxman Classic CL-38U: $4490 $$$
With styling that brings to mind the Marantz Model 7C—especially if you "squint a little," per AD—the Luxman CL-38u preamplifier mates classic form with classic function by including a mono switch, rumble filter, balance control, tone controls (with switchable hinge frequencies), and a phono section, the latter with built-in step-up transformers for MC gain. All voltage-gain and buffering chores in the CL-38u are handled by eight dual-triode tubes, with rectification and some switching accomplished by solid-state devices. In AD's tube-happy system, the Luxman "presented music with natural, realistic warmth and color, and fine bass-to-treble balance," although with the "tone controls enabled, the sound was cloudier, less open." AD also praised the Luxman's "sheer speed and clarity of musical timing," ultimately describing the CL-38u as "not just a good value: It's an exceptional value." Reporting from his test bench, JA gave the CL-38u a clean bill of health: it "doesn't appear to be compromised in any way, either by its versatility or by its exclusive use of tubes." (Vol.38 No.5 WWW)

Moon by Simaudio Evolution 740P: $9000
The solid-state Moon Evolution 740P is a dual-mono line-level preamplifier that offers both single-ended and true balanced operation, the latter thanks to its differential audio circuitry. Its volume control is Simaudio's own M-eVOL2 stage, comprising 530 discrete steps of 0.1dB each, and its power supply is built around the similarly orthographically odd M-LoVo voltage-regulator stage. FK had strong praise for the Simaudio's temporal cohesion, its ability to "[keep] low-level signals pure," and its facility with "detail . . . that most preamps smudge," but added that "in no way . . . did the 740P ever sound too analytical; its clarity didn't come at the sacrifice of musical warmth." JA summed up the Simaudio's time on the test bench: "The Moon Evolution 740P's measured performance is beyond reproach." (Vol.38 No.5 WWW)

Moon by Simaudio Evolution 850P: $30,000
The solid and beautifully built 850P is a two-chassis, dual-mono line-stage preamplifier with three balanced and four unbalanced inputs, a monitor/signal-processor loop, and two sets each of balanced and unbalanced outputs. It uses Simaudio's M-Octave mechanical damping system to decouple the audio circuit board from the chassis with eight compliant feet, each made of an elastomeric material and pre-loading chosen for their ability to damp the frequencies relevant to that part of the board. The 850P's complex power supply incorporates 40 examples of Simaudio's unique Independent Inductive DC Filtering topology, and its M-Ray volume-control circuit allows the user to precisely and quickly fine-tune the level in increments of 0.1 or 1dB. The sound was exceptionally transparent, with expertly reproduced transients, sharp image focus, and an outstanding sense of space, said BD. "No doubt about it," JA agreed—"Simaudio's Moon Evolution 850P is one of the best-measuring preamplifiers I have encountered." (Vol.36 No.12 WWW)

Nagra Jazz: $12,995 ★
The Jazz is a tubed line preamp with one pair balanced and four pairs single-ended inputs, and one pair balanced and two pairs single-ended outputs. It uses a 12AX7 dual-triode input-stage tube and a 12AT7 gain-stage tube. Measuring 12" W by 3" H by 10" D and weighing 7 lbs, it has a faceplate machined from a solid billet of aluminum, giving it the rugged, purposeful look and feel common to Nagra components. Though it lacked some bottom-end impact, the Jazz had a clean, clear, revealing sound with an uncolored midrange, extended highs, and lightning-fast transients, said BJR. "I enjoyed every piece of music I listened to through the Jazz, even when it ruthlessly revealed differences in recording quality," he concluded. JA noted excellent measured performance. (Vol.36 No.4 WWW)

Parasound Halo JC 2 BP: $4495 $$$ ★
Styled to match the JC 1 power amplifier and finished in the same brushed, natural aluminum, the JC 2 exhibits a high standard of construction. Each channel of the fully balanced JC 2 is on a separate PCB, with the audio and control power supplies on separate circuits, isolated from each other by 3/8"-thick aluminum partitions. ST was impressed by the JC 2's noiseless operation and excellent reproduction of space, which allowed music "to emerge intact—with body, bloom, and dynamics, with definition and detail—from an utterly silent background." JA agreed, but decided the JC 2 sounded best with warmer-sounding amplifiers and speakers, when it excelled in the areas of images and dynamics. "Perhaps the finest solid-state line stage I have heard," sums up ST. "This is what a great line stage does: lets all the other components perform at their best. The Halo JC 2 matched the Ayre KX-R in terms of openness and sparkle, but sounded leaner and could not reach the Ayre's level of deep musicality, said WP. Compared to the Simaudio Moon Evolution P-7, the JC 2 sacrificed body for leading-edge definition, felt JA. One of Stereophile's "Joint Amplification Components" for 2008. Configured for home-theater bypass, the BP version of Parasound's excellent JC 2 preamplifier ($4795) has a revised circuit board and front-panel control board that make possible the hybridization of a traditional analog two-channel system with a modern digital multichannel system. The Halo JC 2 BP looks almost identical to the Halo JC 2, with only the Bypass LED on the front panel and the letters "BP" added to the labeling front and rear. It offers both balanced RCA and unbalanced XLR inputs and outputs. KR heard no difference between a direct connection from pre-pro to power amp and a connection via the JC 2 BP's bypass function. Owners of existing JC 2s can have their units upgraded to BP status for $500. (Vol.30 No.12, Vol.31 Nos.3 & 11, Vol.32 No.3, Vol.34 No.6 WWW; 'BP version Vol.34 No.3 WWW)

Pass Labs XP-30: $16,500 ★
In its conventional two-channel model, the XP-30 comprises three separate chassis: one each for its control circuitry and power supply and each channel's audio circuitry. Using additional chassis, the XP-30 can be expanded to as many as six channels. Each audio chassis has both a Master and a Slave analog output, duplicated on balanced XLRs and single-ended RCAs; and six analog inputs, also duplicated on balanced XLRs and single-ended RCAs. The XP-30 uses an integrated-circuit volume control. It virtually transported JA to recording studios and performance spaces, consistently drawing his attention to aspects of music rather than of sound. "The XP-30 has rekindled for me the concept that the beating heart of an audio system is the preamplifier," he said. Measured performance was superb. (Vol.36 No.4, Vol.38 No.5 WWW)

Placette Audio Active Line Stage: $6995 ★
The Active Linestage is intended to combine the transparency of Placette's purist Remote Volume Control with a usable level of functionality, providing five sets of unbalanced inputs, two sets of outputs, and a tape loop. Its absolute clarity, focus, solidity, and transparency were unrivaled in BD's experience. "Highly recommended." Sold direct, with a lifetime warranty and 30-day refund policy. (Vol.30 No.11 WWW)

Shindo Masseto: $13,500 ★
Like the less-expensive Aurieges, the Masseto is a full-function preamplifier, but adds a selectable choice between moving-magnet and moving-coil phono inputs. The dual-mono power supply is based on a pair of Philips 6X4WA rectifier tubes, the phono stage uses one Philips 6189W and one Philips 12AT7 per channel, and its line stage uses a single LCP86 triode/pentode per channel. With a "stunningly low noise floor," the Masseto consistently conveyed music in a way that allowed Art to become fully immersed in the performance. "Time after time," he said, "I found myself responding to my hi-fi the way I respond to real music." The Masseto's stock input MC transformer was "quiet in every way," and worked especially well with Art's Miyabi cartridge, providing "loads of texture, and enough drama to keep me happy indefinitely," he said. AD's reference preamp since 2007. Current model uses the same basic line, phono, and power-supply circuits found in the original, but has a fancier faceplate. Art has found that the Masseto does not respond well to isolation devices, aftermarket AC cords, or alternate tubes, and he recommends very gentle insertion and removal of interconnects to avoid damaging the Masseto's fragile Switchcraft RCA jacks. Still, the Masseto remains "satisfyingly musical and downright right," he said. "The most beauty you can buy for this kind of money." (Vol.30 Nos.7 & 10; Vol.36 No.6 WWW)

TAD Laboratories C600: $42,000 ★
Part of TAD's Reference line, the C600 is a dual-mono, solid-state line preamplifier with a substantial external power supply. It measures 17.5" W by 5.9" H by 17.2" D, weighs almost 64 lbs, and has an attractive chassis of brushed anodized aluminum. It offers three unbalanced and three balanced inputs, two unbalanced and two balanced outputs, and two buffered Tape outputs. Each of the C600's inputs is associated with its own relay-controlled preamplifier, ladder resistor attenuator, and gain stage. The C600 combined airy highs, a somewhat lean midrange, and powerful bass for a sound that was exciting, resolute, and ruthlessly revealing, said MF. "TAD's C600 is a meticulously designed and exceptionally well-built high-tech wonder," he concluded. "Its construction and audio engineering are beyond reproach," JA added. (Vol.36 No.6 WWW)

VAC Signature SE: $19,500 (line stage only), $26,000 (with phono)
In its basic form, the Signature SE ($19,500) is a tubed line stage that offers a mix of balanced (XLR) and unbalanced (RCA) inputs and outputs, the latter addressed by custom-designed output transformers. Its optional phono stage ($6500)—dual-triode tubes, MC step-up transformers, separate power-supply transformer, and all—fits alongside the line-level circuitry in the preamp's main enclosure. (A second, separate chassis is devoted to the line stage's power supply.) In his last review for Stereophile, our beloved friend BJR described the VAC Signature SE as nothing less than "the most significant audio product I've ever hooked up to my reference system. It was flawless." Noting, in his measurements, some frequency-dependent "poor overload margin" and "high intermodulation distortion" in the VAC's phono stage, JA recommended partnering the preamp only with phono cartridges of lower-than-average output. (Vol.38 No.6 WWW)

VTL TL5.5 Series II Signature: $8000 ★
VTL's most expensive all-tube preamplifier retains the basic circuit topology of the original TL-5.5 with a lower-gain, high-current 12AU7 tube circuit, a 12AT7 tube buffer, minimal negative feedback, and a low-impedance output stage. It uses a new, precision-regulated power supply and has a 117-step, chip-based differential volume control. There are two pairs of inputs that can be operated in either balanced or single-ended mode, as well as six additional single-ended inputs. Though it wasn't as resolving or detailed as the Nagra Jazz, the VTL produced delicate highs, a voluptuous midrange, and punchy bass, said BJR, adding "an extraordinary sense of lower bass extension and high level dynamic slam." "VTL's TL-5.5 Series II Signature is a nicely engineered preamplifier that offers no measured compromise resulting from its use of tubes," added JA. Optional phono stage adds $2500. (Vol.36 No.6 WWW)

VTL TL6.5 Series II Signature: $15,000
Essentially a single-box version of VTL's TL7.5, the fully balanced TL6.5 Series II Signature line-level preamplifier combines a gain stage based on vacuum tubes—one 12AU7 per channel—with an output stage using solid-state devices. For the Series II version, those devices have been upgraded from MOSFETs to an unidentified type of FET that VTL says is more tube-like in its behavior. Other technical changes include the elimination of global feedback and a doubling-up of mains transformers. FK described the TL6.5 Series II Signature as "the smoothest-sounding preamp I've heard in my system—and I don't mean smooth in a pejorative sense." He also described extended trebles that were "pure" and "natural," abundant speed and consequent added realism on percussive sounds, and good imaging "without excessive beam." JA's measurements confirmed the VTL's high quality: "The TL6.5 Series II Signature is a well-engineered preamplifier—as I have come to expect from VTL." (Vol.39 No.8 WWW)

Ypsilon PST-100 MK2: $37,000 ★
Made in Greece, the PST-100 is a handsome tubed preamplifier housed in a thick, satin-finished aluminum chassis. It features transformer-based attenuation, 6CA4 tube rectification, choke supply filtering, a switchable passive mode, and a zero-feedback active stage based on a carefully selected Siemens C3m pentode tube. Though differences between the PST-100's active and passive stages were small, MF preferred the passive stage for its purer, more transparent sound. Compared to the darTZeel NHB-18NS, the Ypsilon produced more vivid tonal colors and greater physicality. "For now," MF concluded, "the Ypsilon PST-100 is the most transparent and, therefore, the most perfect audio component I have ever heard—or not heard." Though XLR input and output jacks are provided, the circuitry is unbalanced only. Without a line stage, the completely passive PST-100 TA costs $26,000. (Vol.34 No.7 WWW)

Zesto Audio Leto 1.5: $7500
As BJR put it, the word that best describes the technical design of the "drop-dead-gorgeous" Zesto Audio Leto line-level preamplifier is simplicity: its per-channel tube complement of one 12AX7 dual-triode and one 12AU7 dual-triode provides up to 12dB of gain—which the user can switch to 3dB, if the need arises to stay within the volume control's most accurate range. All switching is done with reed relays, and BJR described the stripped-down remote control as "the most minimalist I've ever encountered." In addition to single-ended operation, the Leto offers transformer-coupled, true-balanced inputs and outputs. The Zesto Leto was capable of great musical delicacy, BJR noted, and "it most impressed . . . with its ability to articulate transients." He was also "astounded by the Leto's wide and linear dynamic range," although, on the downside, "the Zesto seemed to run out of gas a bit in the loudest passages; in short, [its] dynamic range seemed to stretch only from ppp to ff." In his measurements, JA was impressed overall, noting in particular that "the Leto's distortion signature doesn't change with level, frequency, load impedance, or at different volume-control settings." 2015 "1.5" version adds a headphone amplifier. (Vol.37 No.4 WWW)


Parasound Halo P 5: $1095 $$$
The 2.1-channel Parasound Halo P5—the ".1" hints at the P5's three subwoofer outputs, which incorporate user-adjustable high- and low-pass filters—is a solid-state line-and-phono preamplifier equipped with a balance control, defeatable tone controls, an analog iPod input, electronic source switching, a headphone jack, and a built-in 24-bit/192kHz D/A converter with a USB input. AD observed: "On paper . . . the Parasound P5 seemed like an awful lot of product for the money; that impression was borne out in my system." He described the preamp as slightly dry sounding but with "enduringly good musical flow and momentum, and superb freedom from distortions of pitch or timing." While the P5's built-in DAC was pleasantly clear, AD suggested that it was no match for the more colorful, substantial Halide DAC HD; in his measurements, JA concurred, saying the P5's digital section is best "regarded as more of a convenience" feature, while praising the analog preamp's "excellent performance at an affordable price." (Vol.37 No.4 WWW)

Parasound Halo P 7: $2295 $$$ ★
Full-featured analog stereo preamp with six stereo inputs, balanced and unbalanced outputs, front-panel headphone and MP3 jacks, and an MM/MC phono preamp—See "Multichannel Components." Delightful sound but "falls asymptotically short of the delicacy of the Nagra and Simaudio preamps I have used," says KR. (Vol.32 No.1 WWW)

Rogue Audio RP-1: $1699
The latest example of an encouraging trend toward preamplifiers with built-in phono stages, the Rogue RP-1 uses a pair of 12AU7 dual-triode tubes for line-level gain and buffering, and solid-state devices for MM and MC phono preamplification, the latter including eight choices for user-adjustable cartridge loading, ranging from 30 ohms to 47k ohms. Creature comforts include a balance knob—as HR wrote, "when was the last time you saw one of those?"—as well as a front-mounted headphone jack and a remote handset. HR did not mince words: apart from describing the Rogue's headphone sound as "mostly average," he wrote that, "compared to any preamplifier I know of at anywhere near its price, the RP-1 reaches deeper into the music to excavate a stronger, more precise, more spacious musical presentation. Highly recommended." Apart from confirming that its headphone amp rolls off the highs (–5dB at 20kHz) and that its output impedance requires a partnering amp with an input impedance no lower than 10k ohms, JA reported that the RP-1 measured well—and described its phono stage as "simply superb." (Vol.39 No.8 WWW)


Schiit Audio SYS: $49
ST, to whom the concept of a simple and gainless preamp has great appeal—"Why do you need so much gain if all you're going to do is dial it back[?]"—was attracted to this latest piece from Schiit. The SYS provides two pairs of input jacks, a switch for choosing between them, a volume control, and one pair of output jacks. Compared with an $8500 transformer-based passive preamp, the Schiit disappointed in its lack of ability to "expand dynamics and quiet background noise." But, said ST, "The Schiit SYS preamp introduced no crap of its own. No power-supply noise, no tube farts, no glare." His verdict: "You almost owe it to yourself" to try the Schiit SYS. (Vol.37 No.12)


NAD M12, Arcam C49.

Classé CP-800 no longer available; darTZeel NHB-18NS, Emotiva Unbalanced Control Freak, replaced by new versions; Promitheus Audio Reference TVC not auditioned in a long time.

germay0653's picture

For the past three years not one Pro-ject turntable has been in the recommended list but there is always some number of Music Hall models recommended. I believe they're made at the same factory, some even share the same arms. I'm not trying to take away anything from Music Hall because they're fine turntables but this just seems a little biased maybe.

jdaddabbo's picture

Having read and re-read many times over reviews for such speakers as the KEF R700, Monitor Audio Silver 8, B&W 683 S2, GoldenEar Triton One and Triton Five... I am finding it quite confusing to see the Triton Five listed under Class C. So I re-read all of them yet again, and then immediately doubled back to the R700, Silver 8, and Triton One... and still I'm expecting to see the Triton Five also listed under Class B. Can someone please help me understand what I am missing? Is it that I am not taking away strong enough some things stated about the Triton Five, or is it maybe that I am taking away to strongly comments made of all the others, which in either case is having me feel that all 5 speakers belong under Class B (or simply under the same Class). Thank you very much for any guidance you can give me! Ps. I'm currently in the market for 3 pairs of speakers for use in my new Home Theater setup and therefore both the Silver 8 and Triton 5 were looking quite good at their respective price points.

John Atkinson's picture
jdaddabbo wrote:
I am finding it quite confusing to see the Triton Five listed under Class C. . . Can someone please help me understand what I am missing?

When I polled the writers for their recommendations, the balance of opinion was that the Triton Five didn't quite reach the standard set by the other speakers. But it was a close call. If you like the sound of the Triton Five, don't worry about the rating - as it says in the introduction, we still recommend it.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

George Napalm's picture

I noticed that Music Hall MMF-7.3 is listed as Class B component. But despite being the cheapest turntable in this category it doesn't have a "$$$" mark...

User5910's picture

Re: "The SubSeries 125 (originally called SubSeries 1)"

It looks like the predecessor was the SubSeries 100 based on your 2014 Recommended Components article. The SubSeries 1 is ported, unlike the 100 and 125.

Marc210's picture

Are measurements correlated with listening experience(s) ?!

sophie1511's picture

That power amp showed in the picture looks more like over the range microwave...Lol. Jokes aside, i have been using Gemini XGA-2000 Power Amplifier and its been over a year since I purchased it.

I still have no problem or concern with it. It is highly recommended from my side.

ww85's picture

2016 was the worst. So it should have been no surprise to me that the Sonos Connect (aka ZP80/ZP90) finally fell off this list. Back in 2006, I had already been looking for years for something that seemed it should have been common sense simple. A way to take my entire cd collection and play it it all through my stereo without compression or having to leave the couch. After all, the files are digital and digital is digital… Once you get past the cost (and labor) of storing them on an external hard drive, it should just be a matter of getting the files to play on your system. What seemed like something that should be pretty straight forward turned out to be a major undertaking for the "industry"... Then along came Sonos with aspirations for a simple way to put music in every room of a house digitally. Speakers were built into amps, they marketed to people who used to love those cool looking B&O systems of the 80’s and 90’s. Fair enough... But when reading John Atkinson’s review of this new system, the proverbial lightbulb went off in my head. With regards to the ZP80, the processor that could be dropped into an existing system, it was exactly the answer I had been looking for. On top of that, it was cheap, sounded great if you used the digital out to a good Dac, (and measured well too) and once purchased, revealed a great interface from my ever present lap top that made it the most life changing component I ever owned. That is not just nostalgia talking. The Sonos ZP80 made listening to anything you wanted listen to, any song that ever popped into you or your kids head, just one click away. The music was CD quality and it was playing on my modest (but beloved) system. The queue feature let you add songs to your playlist as you thought of them. All of that for $349 in a box that is still available, and apparently, still looked down upon by high enders… When I read that review in 2006, not only did I see the interface I had always wanted, but what seemed like an apparent conundrum for the audiophile community. If you can take a cd and burn it to any hard drive, well, there goes the need for high end transports (and who knows what other components) And sure enough, after JA’s review, there seemed to be lots of backlash. The parts in the ZP80 were crap for God’s sake! Mods were out almost instantaneously. I was attracted to them of course, but in retrospect, I think everyone (me included) missed a salient point from JA’s review- “The Sonos can take the digital output from the NAS drive and convert it for you, or send it unmolested to your favorite DAC.” Unmolested! That was and is the beauty to the whole thing and what I think was and is being missed by a whole generation of audiophiles on a budget. With a simple setup, the Sonos Connect/ZP80/ZP90 can make the most modest stereo sound better than anything an mp3 weened music lover could imagine. I know, I did it in my NYC loft for family and friends for years. They always wanted to know where that music was coming from. Why was that song we were just talking about playing all of a sudden…
Of course, the system is not perfect and I’m always looking for better. Especially after visiting a local high end store and listening to them giggle when they find out what my front end is. (Not that they have any idea how I have it configured.) They hear the word Sonos and assume I’m listening to compressed files on powered speakers. “No” I protest. “I listen to lossless files…” They smirk and say ok, but the parts on that thing are a joke… I try to add that I just pass the signal digitally through it to a Bel Canto Dac, but no, he’s tuned out… He just wants me to hear that 5K music server that will blow me away. And that suggestion on his part was earnest. I did listen. I have looked. And overall, I find the same difficulty now in shopping for a new front end as I did back then. In addition to the sound, the way you access that sound, the interface, the playlists, the streaming services that work on the equipment are all major factors in how you use it on a day to day basis. Sonos has that stuff figured out to a large degree and I see nothing out there that does all that at anywhere near the price… I would say the way I use it almost constitutes a hack, because it’s not really what Sonos as a company is about. It’s also not how I’ve seen any other reviewer talk about it in ten years. Which is a shame, because it works really well and sounds better than it has a right to….

John Atkinson's picture
ww85 wrote:
2016 was the worst. So it should have been no surprise to me that the Sonos Connect (aka ZP80/ZP90) finally fell off this list.

As my original review was 10 years ago and the product has been changed since then, I didn't think appropriate to keep it on the list. But if the Sonos is still working well for you, that's what matters.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

ww85's picture

Thanks for the reply. It wasn't intended as a criticism for leaving it off the list and hope it doesn't read that way. Maybe it was more of a eulogy for an over performing old favorite and a thanks for reviewing it in the first place...

GustavoS's picture

I have been reading and reading for 100 times the Recommended Component Lists and am counting the days for the update in March. It is a tremendous help for some of us who have not the product offer available in the US or Europe. After reading extensively many, many reviews of different speakers, I have found that rock music is not always present (a site dedicated to vintage audio, fan of Tannoy Gold 15, has expressed that one the best track tests is the Anarchy in the UK single, 45 rpm, as it says that the track is very well recorded but only a very good speaker can manage the complexity of the track). Then, I would like to know what the "best" speakers below the 3 kusd line are:

- Kef R300
- ATC SMC 11 with subwoofer?
- MA Gold 50
- Polk LSim 703
- W. Jade 3
- Sonus Faber Venere 1.5 (auditioned it against the Paradigm Studio 20 vs, and I liked a litlle more the Paradigm)
- Dynaudio x14
- Dynaudio Emit M20
- Revel m106
- Others?

Your help will be very, very much appreciated.

Best regards from Argentina,